Study warns that North Carolina poultry farms are an environmental and public health hazard

Hurricane Florence devastated pig and poultry farms in North Carolina last year, but it’s the waste from these farms that humans should be more concerned about.

Around 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million poultry birds drowned in the state because of flooding caused by the hurricane. But the flooding also means that millions of tons of feces ended up being washed away into freshwater sources such as rivers and lakes.

We already know that farm run-off from barren cornfields that are not planted with cover crops in the off-season is hazardous to drinking water and human health.

Needless to say, the type of run-off from pig and poultry farms is even worse and more disgusting.

According to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group:

Our research shows that new poultry operations grew steadily across the state between 2008 and 2016, with more than 60 new operations added a year. The growth rate doubled between 2016 and 2018, with more than 120 operations added a year. In total, between 2008 to 2018, 738 new industrial-scale poultry farms were added.

The poultry farms are springing up faster than ever before, with most of them popping up on flood plains meaning they are obviously at serious risk of being washed away.

The expansion of industrial-scale poultry operations on the coastal plain worsens the plight of residents already suffering from hundreds of swine operations. In the two counties that are home to almost half of all the swine operations in North Carolina, 82 million poultry are packed in between four million pigs.

And that’s particularly bad news, not only because millions of pigs and chickens could be wiped out, but because their feces ends up being washed into water sources that humans use. And there’s a lot of it.

North Carolina’s 4,700 poultry farms create five million tons of nutrient-laden poultry waste a year. That’s on top of the 2,100 swine operations, which generate enough liquified waste to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools every year. EWG‘s calculations show there is 4.8 times more nitrogen waste from poultry than from pigs and 4.1 times more phosphorous waste from poultry than from pigs.

Pig farming is regulated but the rules are not frequently enforced. Regulations on poultry farms, meanwhile, are nearly non-existent.

The vast majority of poultry operations in the state do not require a permit and operate with impunity. Although the 1997 moratorium on new and expanded hog facilities in North Carolina was precipitated by hurricanes hammering farms in floodplains, 74 poultry operations have been built in the vulnerable area densely concentrated around three rivers…toxic runoff from both poultry and swine operations pollute the very same water bodies.

Clearly, state and federal regulators are letting a ticking time bomb continue to wind down to detonation without doing a damn thing about it. Hurricane season just started, yet there are millions of tons of poultry waste in areas at risk of flooding that is not being paid attention to by regulators. The public health is at serious risk of contracting diseases and dangerous parasites from this waste getting in the water supply. The people of North Carolina need to demand regulations and measures to prevent this time bomb from going off. Because if another major hurricane slams into the state this year, the situation will be a whole lot worse than in 2018.

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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